Category Archives: HazArt

More on (traditional) stone carving and lung hazards HazArt

This article comes via NationTalk, native newswire, employment and tender service

Study probes link between soapstone and cancer – Waterloo Record

Forty-six-year-old Jimmy Cookie feels dizzy and has trouble breathing every time he carves into a slab of soapstone.

Now, University of Manitoba researchers are looking at whether Cookie’s lung problems could be linked with the traditional soapstone carving that’s popular in his home community of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut.

Soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a metamorphic rock, a talc-schist. It was used prior to the invention of pottery or ceramics for bowls in the Americas. It also conducts heat well and is mostly inert, thus its use for stove (cooking) utensils, sinks, and laboratory countertops. Alaska soapstone (now rare) can be transformed into gorgeous sculptures.

Although chemically inert for the most part, the stone is a soft material and scratches easily into fine, fibrous particles (talc, actually. In some rocks, a form of asbestos I believe The soapstone dust composition showed breathable asbestos fibers from the amphibole group (tremolite-actinolite). The results suggest talc asbestosis occurrence among soapstone handicraft workers.). The dust can penetrate lungs deeply and irritate the tissues leading to talcosis or talc pneumoconiosis (similarly to silicosis or asbestosis).

Wikipedia isn’t very helpful on the mineralogy and the physical structure. See the articles cited here–

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004 Jul 23;53(28):627-32.
Changing Patterns of Pneumoconiosis Mortality — United States, 1968–2000
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Pneumoconioses are caused by the inhalation and deposition of mineral dusts in the lungs, resulting in pulmonary fibrosis and other parenchymal changes. Many persons with early pneumoconiosis are asymptomatic, but advanced disease often is accompanied by disability and premature death. Known pneumoconioses include coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), silicosis, asbestosis, mixed dust pneumoconiosis, graphitosis, and talcosis. No effective treatment for these diseases is available. This report describes the temporal patterns of pneumoconiosis mortality during 1968-2000, which indicates an overall decrease in pneumoconiosis mortality. However, asbestosis increased steadily and is now the most frequently recorded pneumoconiosis on death certificates. Increased awareness of this trend is needed among health-care providers, employers, workers, and public health agencies.

See Environment, Safety, and Health (ES&H) of Traditional Indian Artisans and Craftspeople Project (HazArt)

One of the classic cases of cancer from use of minerals in traditional arts is
Malignant mesothelioma. A cluster in a native American pueblo.
Driscoll RJ, Mulligan WJ, Schultz D, Candelaria A
N Engl J Med. 1988 Jun 2; 318(22): 1437-8

Unfortunately, there isn’t a publicly available copy on the Internet and no access to journals in Bethel. As I remember the article–
Mesothelioma is an asbestos caused lung cancer. In this case a cluster was found that had nothing to do with brake repair or mining. Instead, people discovered the fire resistant mat they used for soldering silver jewelery also whitened dance moccasins when used as a buffing surface. In addition, the mat had a tendency to flake after substantial use as a fireproof work surface. The mat was an old-fashioned fire resistant mat, made of asbestos.

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Antiques as HazArt (Mercury)

Mercury used to be part of the preservation technique in museums, as a bug killer. This makes analyzing museum specimens for environmental change difficult (pre- and post-industrial; regional ecological change in water, temperature, etc over time using stable nuclides; etc.) There was an interesting study on Berlin museum specimens (feathers) for mercury pollution in the urban environments some 20 years ago. [References in deep storage, I’m afraid. And NIH, DOE, and NSF have never been interested in funding chemical ecology modelling of long-term human environmental change made possible via stable nuclides.] I have another reference I will find about the hazards of handling museum specimens which have been curated in the outmoded manner for pest control and not for environmental heritage.

CDC: Antiques Can Pose Mercury Hazard from the Miami Herald (Registration Required)

ALBANY, N.Y. — Careful with that antique clock. It could pose a mercury hazard. The silvery, skittering, and toxic liquid can be found in some antiques. Mirrors can be backed with mercury and tin; Clock pendulums might be weighted with embedded vials of mercury; and barometers, thermometers and lamps may have mercury in their bases for ballast.

The problem is that mercury in old items can leak, particularly as seals age or when the items are moved, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ask Ann Smith, whose heirloom clock’s pendulum leaked mercury onto the carpet of her gift store in rural Delhi, N.Y., as a cleaner moved it. An attempt to vacuum the tiny silver balls off the carpet only made things worse, requiring a hazardous materials team to be dispatched to Parker House Gifts and Accessories last summer.

To read more: Or:

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Other examples for use in HazArt mitigation

I still don’t have access to my deep storage of projects (wouldn’t your community like its very own “overqualified” thinker?) but there are other sources of information to understand and protect one’s self and environment. I will point to these sources here.

Pottery (shaping and firing) has already been mentioned here
| Native Crafts Health Effects Project | and the comments.

There is an interesting series of photos and text about making traditional pottery in the Catawba style. The photos include one of firing and of the preparation of clay. Also included is one of scraping the dried pottery to shape it prior to firing.

dusty sanding stone sculpture

Sculpting and stone dust. Note the use of a respirator and gloves. A shower and change of clothes would be needed before leaving the worksite. This would avoid one of the occupational health classics– families of asbestos miners and workers would themselves get lung cancer because the dust off the clothing would be brought home. [for example,

“Hazardous Substances Can Contaminate Workers’ Homes and Families:
* Contamination on work clothing transferred to washing machines and dryers. Dangerous levels of hazardous materials can poisoning the person handling them and contaminate other laundry.
* contamination on tools and equipment transferred to homes and vehicles
* scrap lumber taken home from work
* workers may pass dangerous materials to their family members through contact with their hands and body
* cottage industries where work was done on home property
* family members can be exposed to dangerous materials in dust or air through visits to the workplace”

I can’t tell if eye protection is used (I hope so; but see how the Feds use PPE | Experts will test birds for signs of avian flu |) Safety glasses should be used even for scraping and sanding wet or dry clay.

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Native Crafts Health Effects Project

As part of the HazArt project | Environment, Safety, and Health (ES&H) of Traditional Indian Artisans and Craftspeople Project (HazArt) | we tested the ambient air quality during a firing of black-on-black (reduced) pottery. This field project was a collaboration of Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, Inc., Sandia National Laboratory, and Tewa Women United.

The project was recorded August 1993 by Catalina Reyes of KUNM for National Native News. Her story was broadcast that September.

Principals on the broadcast are

  • Kathy Sanchez (potter) and Evelyn Garcia (assisting the firing), Tewa Women United
  • Pat Herring, CIH, Sandia National Laboratory and
  • myself (M. Pamela Bumsted, Ph.D.), head of the ENIPC environmental office.
  • Mary Attu, doll maker and skin sewer, was also interviewed
  • Field location was the pot firing shed (stable) of the late Maria and Julian Martinez, San Ildefonso Pueblo, great-grandparents to Ms Sanchez and Garcia. Read earlier post,
    | Maria Martinez’s open-source earthenware |

    This digitized audio file does not represent the quality of the original audiotape. The audio is copyright. I’m sorry the quality is not good. I’ll get it improved eventually. There are photos of the project, in deep storage. These too will one day be available.

    The following picture shows the traditional firing. Please read the story and view the pictures at

    Maria Julian Martinez firing pots
    click to play

  • | Native Crafts health effects audio file in mp3 format. 5 minutes, 19 seconds |

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    There is an interesting history of the founding of National Native News by Gary Fife, currently with the Anchorage Municipal Light and Power. [I rather miss the old format (and Nellie Moore, Sharon McConnell, and Patty Talahongva).]

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    On-line exhibit Maria Martinez

    Following up on

    there is an on-line exhibit, fairly superficial, but will give a taste of the quality and history.

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